Lighting Trends for the Kitchen & Bath

by Ashley Lapin Olian

At what point in the design process do you work out the lighting plan? When do you discuss it with your clients and specify the fixtures? Do you do it yourself or work with a lighting specialist?

Regardless of sequence or source, it’s crucial to factor lighting into your plans and budgets. A well-lit kitchen and bath is a safer, more attractive and functional space. Here are some of the lighting trends you’ll want to consider this season.


If you attended KBIS in January, you saw LEDs everywhere on the show floor. They’re being used in both kitchens and baths, decoratively and functionally. LEDs have become especially important to California designers, given the state’s most-stringent-in-the-nation energy requirements.

“Many of the projects we work on have all LED lighting in the kitchens,” says Erica McNicholas with KGM Architectural Lighting in El Segundo, CA. “LED lighting is the biggest trend in residential kitchens we’re seeing today,” the lighting designer adds. It’s being driven not just by building codes, she says, but by homeowners wanting to be environmentally responsible and save money. Fortunately, there are a lot more choices for her – and you – to consider in every lighting category. Manufacturers like Studio Italia Design USA are making sure of it.

“The growth of the LED market is incredible, and one of the most important factors about LEDs is that they are becoming smaller and smaller while still delivering excellent illumination,” shares David Weisinger, Studio Italia USA’s president. “Smaller drivers mean that LEDs can be built into more compact fixtures. “The design options are tremendous now, where you were limited with bigger drivers [in the past],” he notes.

Designers are definitely taking advantage of that. “Recessed down lights are no longer only six-inch round diameters, but can be as small as two inches in diameter. Trims can also be plastered flush with the ceiling, making them virtually disappear,” McNicholas says.

“At the speed in which technology is advancing, we expect to see LEDs completely replace most traditional light sources,” she predicts. McNicholas sees LEDs becoming even more efficient, more compact, more attractive and better at dimming. “LEDs have a bad reputation of being ‘too blue’ and ‘too cold.’ Manufacturers are tackling that stigma by offering various color temperatures of light. There are LED products out on the market that truly mimic incandescent sources by getting warmer as they dim down, or have technology that enables users to adjust color of the fixture,” the lighting designer adds.

Michael Murphy, Interior Design & Trends Producer for Lamps Plus, shares that LEDs are not only getting more technologically advanced, they’re getting more affordable. “As with any technology, the more widely available and utilized, the lower the cost. As more people become educated to the benefits, interest grows and the industry responds with a more attainable price tag.”


There’s another huge trend tied into LEDs’ exploding popularity: connectivity. “LEDs will continue to light the way with style options, technology, energy efficiency and home lighting on mobile devices,” Murphy predicts. There are those mobile devices again! Connectivity has become a force in the lighting industry, just as it has in so many other kitchen and bathroom categories.

Firms like Lutron, Legrande and others are integrating mobile device needs and capabilities into their products. Lutron and its competitors have systems that allow homeowners to control their lighting from their smart phones and tablets. Legrande has built charging cradles and speakers for your devices right into its modular under-cabinet system. Its newest Adorne package includes Wi-Fi capability, as well.

Not only are these systems empowering homeowners with connected technology, they seem to be inspired by the sleekness of those devices, too, in the control panels they offer. There are options far beyond the traditional rocker switch to enhance your designs today.


Manufacturers like Studio Italia Design and Hudson Valley Lighting are making it easier for designers to create the looks they want with increased variety and improved technologies. Kitchens may be the most challenging of all rooms to light. Brent Fields, Hudson Valley’s v.p. and lighting designer, notes, “As hubs of household activity, kitchens demand layered lighting from a variety of sources. Strong overhead lighting is necessary for general illumination and can be attractively accomplished with a larger-scale flush-mount fixture. Traditional cooking and cleaning areas, such as island counters, require focused task lighting from pendants or island fixtures. Breakfast nooks can be lit with a single glass globe, a decorative pendant or even a cluster of smaller pendants hung at varying heights for maximum visual impact. A wall sconce or two can provide additional ambient light, focused in the eating area.” That’s a lot of lighting to plan and specify.

“We are seeing a lot of mixing of pendant sizes and varying lengths – it’s less about matchy-matchy and more about adding something that is unique to your own design,” Studio Italia’s Weisinger adds.

“Kitchens are always the most multifunctional room in the house. This space serves as our adjunct office and, of course, cooking and entertaining areas,” comments Lamps Plus’ Murphy. “Knowing the function allows us to provide the best possible lighting.” Not only do you need ambient and task lighting, he says, “you need accent lighting to draw attention to those special details like the woven tile backsplash, copper hammered hood or art work.” Kitchens with a single lighting source are as obsolete today as the fluorescent light box that so often provided it in the past.


“Lighting is no longer an afterthought when it comes to designing the bathroom. People are starting to realize that having bold decorative lighting choices that focus on the details can add a layer of intrigue and sophistication,” says Hudson Valley’s Fields. “While flush mounts are still considered standard for ambient bathroom lighting, pendants and small chandeliers can add unexpected elegance to this utilitarian space. Even crystal ceiling chandeliers are now being used as an engaging focal point in the bathroom.”

KGM’s lighting designer McNicholas adds, “Bathrooms have become oases, as homeowners want the spa atmosphere from the comfort of their home. Soft indirect lighting used to accentuate feature wall materials, along with decorative light fixtures for a little sparkle, can begin to create calm and tranquil spaces. Mirrors are also playing a role in lighting, as they can be floating with backlighting or have LED fixtures that are completely flush with the mirror.”

“We are seeing more pendant lighting being used on the sides of the vanity, integrated lighting in showerheads and LED lighting strips inside cabinets and as accent lighting around the base of bathtubs and under floating vanities,” shares Murphy.


There are a wide range of lighting styles to fit just about every taste. Murphy and Lamps Plus have defined these four as the dominant looks for 2016:

  • Industrial Modern blends the urban edge of utilitarian design with the warmth of aged woods and worn textures.
  • Luxe blends elegant design lines with rich opulent finishes like mirror, lacquer and glamorous furniture and lighting.
  • The New Traditional style is all about making the classic new again. Take timeless shapes and profiles, craft them out of new materials, accent with on-trend brass or gold finishes and you have tradition re-born.
  • Modern Mix reflects the latest in trends with its exciting blend of bold lighting forms. Lighting is layered with eye-catching visual interest, making it the perfect solution for the modern living room.

Hudson Valley’s Fields sees retro revivals as a strong trend, especially Midcentury. “There will always be a nod to the past,” he notes, and his brand went with Sputnik-inspired Atomic Age style. Artisanal is another trend his firm has embraced, with a hand-poured, Italian-inspired glass series.

“Rose Gold is one of our newest finishes, and it’s already becoming quite popular,” shares Studio Italia’s Weisinger. Faucets in that tone were also popular at KBIS this year. “We are also seeing an interest in mixing finishes; a metal in one color and Murano glass in another. Lighting as a true focal point is very much a trend now,” he adds.


“Lighting in kitchens and baths has become more about setting moods, rather than just taking the dark away,” shares lighting designer McNicholas. “By having several sources of light that can be dimmed independently, spaces can feel visually balanced, warm and inviting.” Regardless of style and scale, that should be the idea for every project. Don’t you agree?

Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS is an independent designer in San Diego, the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work and upcoming New Bathroom Idea Book (Taunton Press), and a blogger, design journalist, seminar developer and industry consultant.

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